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Israeli hospitals reopen their coronavirus wards as serious cases mount

Number of serious patients reaches 153, having more than doubled in a week, Health Ministry data shows

Illustrative: A Soroka Medical Center staff member works in the coronavirus ward on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Soroka Medical Center staff member works in the coronavirus ward on September 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Several Israeli hospitals reopened their coronavirus wards Wednesday, amid a persistent rise in serious COVID-19 cases.

The hospitals had closed the wards some months ago in the wake of the widespread vaccination campaign. The number of serious cases nationwide dropped to a low of 19 last month.

But as the ultra-infectious Delta variant gained momentum, cases and serious patients have been gradually rising. The tally of serious cases reached 153 on Wednesday, including 35 listed as critical, according to Health Ministry data. The number of serious cases has more than doubled over the past week.

Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba announced it was reopening its coronavirus ward, which currently has nine patients, including one in serious condition. The hospital also said it was preparing to open its intensive care coronavirus unit.

Ziv Medical Center in Safed, which has four COVID-19 patients, including one in serious condition, announced a similar move.

At the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, a 91-year-old COVID-19 patient died, three days after her 95-year-old husband succumbed to the virus.

Health Ministry data published Wednesday morning showed there were 2,260 new COVID-19 cases identified in the country on Tuesday, with 2.38 percent of tests coming back positive.

Active cases have reached 14,365, after the figure was around 200 six weeks ago.

According to the data, 5,772,362 Israelis have received at least one vaccine shot, and 5,334,736 have received both doses.

Medical staff conduct tests for coronavirus in Jerusalem on July 22, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published on Tuesday indicated that the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing serious illness has fallen to 80 percent.

The study, which was presented to the government, also predicted that the tally of serious COVID-19 cases in Israel could reach as high as 400 in less than three weeks if no steps are taken to rein in infections.

The study warned that numbers of serious cases and patients on ventilators have been rising at a similar rate to that observed in July 2020.

“The wave of infections last July was stopped thanks to restrictions imposed in the second half of July,” the researchers wrote. “No such steps were taken this year, therefore no similar stop is expected in the near future.”

The study suggested that the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness has dropped to 80% (compared to over 90% before the appearance of the Delta variant). It indicated the shots are 90% effective in preventing deaths.

“The vaccine’s effectiveness is significantly lower than the effectiveness observed in March,” the researchers wrote.

In this March 2021 photo provided by Pfizer, vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared for packaging at the company’s facility in Puurs, Belgium. (Pfizer via AP)

Some analysts have warned that the figures on vaccine effectiveness are prone to major inaccuracies because of a range of factors, including questions over whether there is accurate data on infection levels among the non-vaccinated, which is vital for such stats. And British data indicates the Israeli studies may be overstating the apparent drop in effectiveness.

Israel began administering a third booster shot two weeks ago to those with severely compromised immune systems, including transplant recipients and those with blood cancers — setting a world precedent.

Nathan Jeffay and AP contributed to this report.

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